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Variations of this post exist at http://www.johnson-moo.com/how-to-protect-your-app-idea/ and http://www.furzymarketing.com/how-to-protect-app-ideas/.
You have a great mobile game idea. It’s nothing like Flappy Bird or Temple Run and you know that once it’s developed and on the market, millions of people will play it every day. Then, one day, you tell one of your coworkers about it at the water cooler, and in four months, you see your exact game in an app store. You know that this coworker has stolen your idea and used it himself, but when you try to find out what recourse you might have, you discover that copyright laws do not actually protect ideas—they only protect expressions of ideas.
What can you do to keep this from happening to you? Here are four ways to protect your mobile game idea:
- Do not wear the idea on your sleeve. This is one of the biggest mistakes that creative people make with their ideas. They want to share them, see how others respond to them, and even get the input of others, to continue to develop and improve the idea. This gives a lot of people a lot of information that they can then use as their own, without any real repercussions. Choose who you share information with very carefully and decide beforehand how much information you really want to share with that person. If you are seeking insights, seek insights from reliable sources, not from everyone you come in contact with.
- Prepare non-disclosure agreements. Unless you are planning on doing all of the game design, development, and marketing yourself, you are likely going to outsource some tasks to other individuals or companies. An NDA is, simply, an agreement between you and anyone you work with that affirms that your information and ideas will be kept confidential. This is not a guarantee that your idea will not be stolen and some people may be averse to signing an NDA without first getting some information about the game, but these agreements do decrease your chances of seeing your idea spread around.
- Choose outsourcers thoughtfully. The last thing you want to do is just pick the first or least expensive company or freelancer you come across. Before divulging your entire idea to those who will make it a reality, read online reviews, look for complaints, and even contact past customers or clients. Working only with companies and freelancers that have spotless reputations means you are far less likely to see your idea stolen. Once you’ve chosen the companies and individuals you are comfortable handing your game over to, make sure the appropriate contracts are in place.
- Finish and publish the game. The best way to prevent someone else from being able to use your idea as their own is to actually finish the mobile game and have it added to the app store. Of course, as is and will always be the case with popular mobile games, there will always be imitators. They cannot, however, use the exact same code as is used in your game. They cannot use the characters, the settings, or same storyline (if applicable). The idea is still fair game, but they will never be the first, nor will those imitations ever be exactly the same. One good way to continue to set your game apart, even if imitators will emerge (and they will if your game is worth its salt), is to hold some features back and roll those out in future updates.
It is frustrating that there are limited protections for concepts or ideas. However, sticking to these guidelines can keep your original idea safe until it’s ready to be played by millions.
Jovan Johnson is a California licensed attorney who focuses on SEO, mobile games, and apps. He is passionate about mentoring students and steering dollars to scholarships, and speaks regularly about career opportunities. He is a principal at Johnson Moo, Furzy, Paymaster.Co, and 320 Instrumentals.